Dante’s Inferno: The Movie Orgy

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Happy Earth Day. I celebrate by going to the final night of Dante’s Inferno at the New Beverly Cinema where Joe is presenting (FREE) a rare screening of THE MOVIE ORGY, a four hour film mash-up edited by him and Jon Davison back in 1968 that played to college audiences across the land for a few years. It was so popular that the original seven hour (!) version was cut down to four and sponsored by Schlitz Beer as it continued its rounds. Considering this legendary movie collage hasn’t been screened in 30 years, there was no way I wasn’t going. Not to mention it was a fitting final feature for Dante’s incredible fest. I wasn’t sure if I would commit to the whole 4 hours and 19 minutes, but I would try. Altho I expected a full house, I left late and got there at around 7:30, showtime. Happily, there were a few seats, but the New Bev was jumpin’.

As I was waiting in line for a coke and peanut butter cups, Edgar Wright, Bill Hader and Quentin Tarantino flew into da house. I end up in the conversational crossfire between him and Allan Arkush and we talk about the great response to HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD and TRUCK TURNER. Quentin says “TRUCK TURNER has gone up a notch in my book now. And Nichelle Nichols!” Arkush seems incredulous about how good HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD went down. Quentin says it was the perfect time and place for an audience to fully appreciate the film, and Arkush fully agrees. I mention the meta-vibe of watching Dick Miller watch himself watching himself watch himself and they laugh. Arkush heaps praise on Miller, then I get my coke and cups and scout a seat with good view.

Joe Dante comes up and launches into an almost apologetic description of THE MOVIE ORGY, telling how he and Jon Davison edited it by hand under raw 16mm conditions. He lays out the cultural background of 1968, how the Vietnam War and Nixon influenced the subversive tone of the “film” which Dante says it isn’t actually a film, but a collage of what you would have seen growing up in the 50’s and 60’s on TV and in the movies but filtered through a counter-culture sensiblity. Dante assumed the audience might not get the 1968 points of THE MOVIE ORGY but he did say it played “at a time when we had an unpopular war and an unpopular president. Go figure.” He encouraged us to leave and come back as befits the grindhouse esthetic and added that since Schlitz distributed the film, he figures most of its fans were drunk at the time. He encouraged us to partake if it helped (I agreed). With that, he was off and we were on, treated to a clip of TRAILERS FROM HELL, the website featuring Dante, John Landis, Rick Baker and others doing commentary on favored genre ads. A great site by the way. The clip was Edgar Wright’s apropos take on the fantastic trailer for SUSPIRIA. Check it out.

speed3shAnd whither THE MOVIE ORGY? Simply put, one of the most amazing film mash-ups I’ve ever seen. Imagine if underground director Craig Baldwin were making his found footage masterpieces in the 60’s, and you’ll know what’s in store. Dante made a DVD copy of the 16mm print in case of technical problems, so we weren’t actually watching the projected film, which was just as well. I would have been furious if the film had broke. In a nutshell, THE MOVIE ORGY is like watching 20 years of television in one Ludovicon night. Interspersed with incredible ads, particularly the grimmest series of commercials I’ve ever seen for Bufferin, featuring head-ache inducers like student protests and elderly people being kicked out of their building, the narrative through-line of TMO is two 50’s drive-in films: THE ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN and SPEED CRAZY. The gem of the pair turned out to be SPEED CRAZY, an overwrought JD melodrama from 1959. The anti-hero’s catchphrase, “Don’t crowd me!” turned into the greatest running joke of THE MOVIE ORGY as they keep cutting back to him saying variations of this line about 20 times. Each time the laughs and applause grew louder until his penultimate scene and the theater cheered. The most jaw-dropping moment was a clip from the old Andy Devine show, with him hoarsely singing “Jesus loves the little children” as a dressed-up cat and mouse played along on tiny instruments. I can’t explain anymore than that; the mind boggles. You had to be there. I wish you were. Like I said, I didn’t think I could make it the whole 4 plus hours, but I found myself mesmerized, bound to the film, as did the audience who remained all the way to the orgiastic repeats of THE END from various sources, including of course, Porky Pig waving, That’s All Folks! It was like a stream of consciousness glimpse into Joe Dante’s mind as all of his future films would be seeded within the cultural DNA of THE MOVIE ORGY.

dante22As soon as it ended, the entire New Beverly audience rose up in spontaneous ovation, a tribute to the film’s power and Dante himself for sharing this rare archive. He seemed genuinely surprised by the enormous audience response. After the deluge, Dante signed my copy of CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the Playboy of monster mags for which he was a contributing editor. I walked home feeling buoyant after another great New Beverly festival, relishing the chance to connect with my cinema mentors and feeling rather inspired about my own time here, working the Dream Factory just a few miles south of Hollywood Boulevard.

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2 Responses to “Dante’s Inferno: The Movie Orgy”

  1. […] today promises to be even more better (to quote IDIOCRACY). Tonight at 5:30 Dante again unleashes THE MOVIE ORGY, the brilliant cultural collage he and Jon Davison cut together and that played across the nation […]

  2. Is there going to be any future showings? Can anyone rent this film? Thanks.

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